Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Centre/Langley diet opportunity

When I wrote the previous entry about Herrick and Union, I was sure that I had written a post dedicated to the woefully overlarge Centre/Langley intersection. Turns out, I'd only mentioned it in another post. It merits its own discussion and amateur Photoshopped satellite picture.

There is so much too much asphalt at Centre and Langley. The city could easily reduce that first part of Langley by 10 to 15 feet and revert a huge amount of the intersection to sidewalk, grass, or both, with no negative effect on vehicles making the turn from Centre to Langley. Of course, it would reduce the crosswalk by the equivalent of a travel lane, extend the green, and generally be a huge step in making Newton Centre more pedestrian friendly.


Thirty feet better Newton Centre

A great thing is happening at the corner of Union and Herrick road. As part of the road reconstruction following the major work last year, a great big gaping hunk of street is being removed as the intersection is redesigned to make it safer, more attractive, and more pedestrian friendly. (There's already a narrower crossing past the station building.)

Technically, the curb radius is being decreased. Colloquially, the corner has gone on a road diet. Regardless, traffic will have to go slower around the corner. Pedestrians will have a much shorter crossing, by my estimate maybe 30 feet shorter. It may even be a revenue generator; I think it will create another parking space!

In the context of road repair, the city traffic engineer and his colleagues have taken the opportunity to make the road much better. If this kind of thoughtful approach to reconstruction -- look for opportunities to remake the road to serve all users -- is followed consistently, we can expect much nicer streets.

This isn't the most critical intersection in Newton Centre. But this approach applied to Langley Street, to Braeland, to the Beacon Street intersections, &c., would reshape Newton Centre.

Imagine if the Centre/Langley intersection went on a similar diet.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Gas tax -- how the US rates

How can one possibly justify the US's unbelievably low gas tax relative to every other industrial country.

From Matt Yglesias.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wanted: pedestrian signal on Parker

Yesterday morning, waiting for the bus, car A hit car B while car B was stopped for a child crossing Parker Street at Daniel Street. When car A hit car B, the child was well over half way across the street in front of car A. In fact, if car A had hit car B much harder, car A would have been forced into the crosswalk and may have hit the child.

In case this isn't clear enough, the driver of car B not only failed to see a child as he crossed over the opposite lane, he failed to see a car right in front of him that was paying attention and had stopped.

Saw the whole thing with my own astonished eyes.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

On unruly cyclists, part II -- Learning from Charles Street

Important prefatory note: Bike riders who put pedestrians at risk of injury or who even make pedestrians anxious about their safety are bad. There is no excuse for adult bike riders on a sidewalk (when there are pedestrians around).

It's striking that the Globe article on "unruly [bike] riders" features a picture of biker riding the wrong way on Charles St. (The picture accompanied the article when it was on the front page of, but I didn't grab it and is lousy about including pictures with articles once they are off the front page.) It's unfortunate that the article didn't address the conditions on Charles St. that explain the wrong-way scofflaw. Charles St. is a great example of how motorist-centric design decisions degrade the experience for non-motorists: pedestrians, cyclists, shop-owners, and neighbors. The wrong-way biker is an illustrative symptom. The infrastructure made him do it.

The biker in the picture quite literally had no choice. Between the entrance to Storrow Drive and Bowdoin St. (above the State House), there is no legal way to go northbound from Beacon. All the streets in-between, including Charles St. are one-way soutbound when they meet Beacon. (Click the image to see the big picture.)

The picture of supposed biker carelessness is more damning of a city that doesn't provide any accommodation on a stretch that really needs it. But, it's not just bikers who are shortchanged by the configuration of Charles St.

Quite obviously, allocating all the space between the curbs to either parking or auto travel doesn't serve the needs of those on two wheels. Less obviously, the three lanes of one-way travel ill-serve the neighborhood. Three lanes of one-way traffic serve one principal purpose: moving traffic. Local merchants don't benefit from through traffic. Nor do the folks who live in the area.

Attending to the needs of the neighborhood first, you'd limit traffic to two lanes, one lane in each direction. It would be easier to get to Charles Street as a retail/restaurant destination. Speeds on the street would slow. It would be easier to cross the street. And, by taking a travel lane out of the mix, there would be room for bike lanes in both directions and wider sidewalks. In short, it would be an even more charming neighborhood.

In fact, there's no compelling reason for any of Charles St. to be one way. The entire stretch would be better served by more on-street parking and the kind of local traffic that a multi-lane one-way cut-through pushes out.

Of course, two-way traffic on Charles St. would eliminate the opportunity to wag our collective finger at the the reckless biker riding against traffic.

Cross posted at Blue Mass. Group.


On unruly cyclists, part I

Important prefatory note: Bike riders who put pedestrians at risk of injury or who even make pedestrians anxious about their safety are bad. There is no excuse for adult bike riders on a sidewalk.

The recent Globe article on "unruly [bike] riders" touches on so many important topics, it's hard to know where to begin. So, a good place is the start -- the article's first sentence:

Boston has launched a high-profile campaign to become a friendlier city for cyclists. Now the question is whether bicyclists will become friendlier to Boston.

What we have here is a reformulation of the perennial response to requests or plans for bicycle accommodations: if bikers want better conditions, they need to behave themselves.

There are arguments to be made -- some of which are made in the article -- that the lack of accommodations is a cause of the unruliness and that more and better bicycle accommodations will actually reduce the unruliness. But, first, let's examine the premise. Why do bicyclists have to earn accommodations?

Imagine a world where the Globe had a front-page story about the recent bridge repair bond bill that started:

The Commonwealth has committed to a massive and costly effort to fix bridges better across the state. Now, the question is whether drivers will fix their bad habits.

Imagine if, every time some public agency contemplated traffic-related improvements, there was a story about drivers':

  • Epidemic speeding
  • Regular failure to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks
  • Unacceptably low use of turn signals
  • Habitual blocking the box at busy intersections during peak hours

Or, even a mention of the fact that there are hundreds of traffic-related fatalities and tens of thousands of serious injuries in Massachusetts every year.

And, how about a front-page story about how motorists routinely park and drive in bike lanes, open car doors without regard to cyclists (now a traffic infraction), cut across bicyclists, &c.?

Bicyclists represent an insignificant threat to public safety relative to motorists, yet the Globe chooses to catalog biker misdeeds on its front page. You could pick any of a dozen area intersections where motorists regularly break the law in numbers much higher than those the reporters noted for bikes. The proportions wouldn't be as high, but the threat posed by a multi-thousand pound car is much higher than that posed by a couple of hundred pounds of biker and bike.

So, why is it that bicyclists get singled out for this special linkage between accommodations and behaviors? I remain convinced, as I wrote last year, that it is the novelty of bike riding that stirs anxiety and prompts media coverage. And, more importantly, we've all become inured to "the never-ending, soul-grinding driver misbehavior that pollutes our roads".

I'm not holding my breathe for a Globe account of intersections in the area where drivers are the problem, complete with counts of all the unticketed infractions.

Cross-posted at Blue Mass. Group.